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What the @#*&!? is Up with Cussing on Twitter?

Carson Reider
Carson Reider / February 24, 2014 - Why, yes, I have been known to cram every swear word into a single tweet.Think of all the words you speak in a given day.

If there were a pedometer-like device for that, the number at the end of the day would be astronomical.

Now, think of that astronomical number and multiply it by 0.7%. The resulting product would be the amount of expletives (see: obscenity, swear word, profanity, cuss), we emit through our mouths each day. That's a big number!

The Study on Twitter's Cussing Problem

Recently, Ohio was cited as the state that cussed the most. It's only fitting that a team of researchers from Wright State University, located in Dayton, Ohio, explored the characteristics of cursing activity on the popular social media platform, Twitter. They analyzed nearly 51 million tweets from approximately 14 million users. Diligently, they sifted through all your standard expletives as well as the "@55es", "$h!ts", and other curse words hidden under the guise of "SHIFT + Number" symbols to "improve our understanding of cursing on social media".

Here are some key takeaways from their research:

Cussing on Twitter is Common

The short-lived Cursebird tried to show tweets with swear words in real time, showing that there was a heavy enough information flow to make it worth someone's while. In the Wright State report, about 7.73% of all the tweets in their collection contain curse words, which comes out to 1 out of 13 tweets contained an obscenity. Curse words occurred at a rate of 1.15% in their sample, which is more than research shows we use I, you, me, and other first-person pronouns!

Twitter’s Favorite Cuss Word

Could've guessed THIS one...

How Users Feel When They're Cussing on Twitter

“The main purpose of cursing is to express emotions, especially anger and frustration,” say Timothy Jay in The Pragmatics of Swearing. The Wright State team isolated tweets marked as "emotional" and examined the frequency of cursing in those tweets.

They found that users are cussing on Twitter when they are angry or sad: 23.82% angry tweets and 13.93% sad tweets contain curse words. Happy feelings such as love (4.16%) and joy (2.5%) didn't see so much, uh, love when it came to cussing when feeling those feelings.

It's Cussing on Twitter O’Clock

In offline conversations, people curse all the time throughout the day. The same can be said for the swearing patterns of those in this study.

As the day drags on, the research shows people curse more and more. In particular, before work/morning times (6 am - 11 am) and "I can't wait to leave work/Hooray I'm off work" times (3 pm - 1:30 am) show increases in cursing activity.

In a Monday-to-Sunday week, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays experience relatively high cursing ratios before trailing off and reaching the lowest point on Saturdays. Then, as the dreaded work week ominously approaches, they start rising up on Sundays.

Where They Cuss While On Twitter

Geotagging tweets has been used before to find out areas where foul-mouthed behavior is most.

It appears that high-schoolers are sailors-in-training with their propensity for cussing on Twitter while at school: 9.36% of tweets geotagged at high schools contained curse words.

It also appears that nature is truly calming. Only 4.97% of all tweets sent from the depths of Fangorn Forest and others contained an expletive.

RT Cusses on Twitter

Twitter Cuss Tweet TypesTake a look at the bar chart to the right and you will see that users are infrequently voluntarily cussing on Twitter. According to the Wright State team, this means the result of their study "suggests that users perform self-censorship to some extent when they directly talk to other users." However, when speaking to others through mentions, replies, and retweets, users are cussing on Twitter more than average.

Twitter, Cussing, and Sexes

Twitter Cuss Words GendersIn general, females are less profane than males on Twitter. It doesn't matter whether they are talking to ex-boyfriends or their sorority sisters (aka "betches"), females aren't as potty-mouthed as their male counterparts.

What Do You Think?

What are some limitations to this study?

Can the findings of this research be used to identify changes in online and offline speech?

Let us know in the comments below or by leaving us a voicemail using the SpeakPipe widget to the right.

Tagged With: Social Media